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Feeding Your Newborn Baby (birth to 1 week)

Updated on March 10, 2015

How I Know?

I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do know a thing or two about the needs of newborns. During my undergraduate studies in speech pathology I studied human development, which included the physical structure of the mouth as well as cognitive, social, and emotional development. In my work as a professional birth and postpartum doula, I often deal with nutrition issues of all sorts. I am interested in infant and childhood nutrition as well as adult nutrition, and the connection of one to the other. As I was becoming a mother, I did a great deal of research on my own to find what was best for my own family. Throughout the lives of my children, my opinions about nutrition have changed based on the continued research I have done. I do not propose to tell you what you should do, but simply to supply you with some facts that you can add to your own informed decision making.


What Should a Newborn Eat?

Okay, let's just get this out of the way now so that you don't have to guess about my intent. I have my own personal opinions, but it is not my place (nor the place of anyone else) to judge how you choose to feed your baby. I only hope that you use safe practices in whatever you decide.

You have probably heard that breastfeeding is best for babies. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and continued breastfeeding for 1 year. I won't give a dissertation on the statistics here. You can read the information for yourself in this Pediatrics article.


Having said that, I understand that circumstances do exist in which it is not possible to breastfeed. Furthermore, many families, knowing the benefits, make the choice not to breastfeed. Sometimes there are risks that just outweigh the benefits, no matter how great the benefit. That is a personal decision that each family must make for themselves. No one needs to know the reason, it just is what it is. This is an entire blog in itself, and be assured, it will be coming.

So if you do decide against breastfeeding, what are your options? Did you know that you can still give your baby all the benefits of breastmilk even if you are not breastfeeding? Human milk banks take donated breastmilk and provide it to families seeking the best of both baby feeding worlds. How can I find this liquid gold for my baby, you ask? Human Milk Banking Association of North America is a good place to start. Donation and pick-up sites are marked on a map on their website. Even if there is not a milk bank near you, the milk can be safely shipped right to your front door. (Check out the story below of a young woman who religiously shipped her milk to her baby after adoption.)

Formula companies go to a great deal of effort and cost to make sure you understand that infant formula is the next best thing to breastmilk. But which one should you use? In such a competitive market the options can be overwhelming. The link below is a comparison by Consumer Reports that will give an overview of the options available to formula feeding families.



How Much Should My Newborn Eat?

I absolutely love the image posted here from Babies First Lactation. This is a great illustration of the size of a baby's stomach at different stages. It also shows how much and how quickly the stomach size changes in that first week of life. This is the reason for the title of this article. It isn't sufficient to talk about what and how much babies should eat, or even newborns. A baby is considered a newborn until 12 weeks of age. If the needs of a newborn changes this much in one week, imagine how much will change in the following 11 weeks? This period sees the most rapid development outside the womb. (In fact, some people are of the opinion that all humans are actually born prematurely, and that a baby in his first year is really an externally developing fetus.)

Now, I did not show this illustration so that you can obsess about getting that exact amount of milk into the stomach of your baby. It is simply a tool to give you an idea of what your baby's tummy can hold at one time. So don't panic if your brand new baby seems to be drinking very little or nothing at all. The real test is at the other end. You know, what goes in must come out.

A better assessment of whether a baby is getting enough to eat is in the diaper. Take a look at the chart below to get a feel for what kind of activity you should look for. Remember a newborn's digestive system hasn't quite figured out how it all works yet. Also, there isn't much to be converted to waste at this point.

In the first couple of days after birth, a baby may only have 2 or three wet diapers and may only have one or two dirty diapers. Don't be alarmed, the color and texture will be different than you might expect. A baby's first stool is called meconium, and it is a black, sticky tar-like substance. Basically, on the third through 7th days, wet diapers should increase by one per day; and there should be an average of about one to two dirty diapers per day. By day 3 or 4, the stool is changing to a more brown or yellow color. It will also have a more smooth texture. At the end of this first week, stools will begin to look more like grainy mustard, brown/yellow and "seedy". They may be regular and come morning and evening, or they may all happen on the third and seventh days. Don't worry yet. Things will likely become more regulated as baby grows.

In and Out chart for the First Week

This illustration was provided as a part of my doula training from DONA.
This illustration was provided as a part of my doula training from DONA. | Source

When Should I Feed My Newborn?

Whether you decide to breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby, you will now have to decide of you are going to feed on demand or follow scheduled feedings, Just like the issue of what a baby is eating, there are strong opinions all over the board on the issue of when a baby should eat as well. Either way, watching your baby's hunger cues is an important part of the supply and demand relationship between your baby and you.

Babies are designed to let us know when they are hungry. Early clues that a newborn is thinking about a meal are lip smacking, sticking out the tongue, turning the head from side to side or "rooting". They will also begin to put their hands in their mouths and then, of course, the unmistakable cry. It is less stressful for the baby if an attentive adult picks up on these cues and responds before the crying begins. For the inexperienced ear, you can listen for a cry that contains the /n/ sound. It might sound something like, "nah," or, "nyah."

Keeping your newborn close will make it easier to pick up on these cues. Which brings me to physical touch. Babies, especially newborns, need skin-to-skin contact. As a matter of fact, the benefits of breastfeeding go beyond the composition of the milk. So whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, on demand or on schedule, during this first week of life, a baby will gain social, emotional and physical benefits from having skin-to skin contact. This can easily be accomplished by unwrapping baby and exposing as much skin of the feeding adult as possible. If not breastfeeding mom, then shirtless dad. If mom and dad are both unavailable, another adult caregiver wearing short sleeves will do.

A newborn should eat at least 8 times per day in the first week. If you are feeding on demand, rely strongly on your baby's cues, keeping in mind how much should be coming and going out over the span of a day. If you are anticipating scheduled feedings, you can try to feed you baby at regular intervals of about every two hours. It is still important to listen to and watch for your baby to tell you what he needs. Regardless of which way you go with this, pay careful attention to output. Remember that this is the best indicator of whether or not your baby is getting enough to eat.

One word of caution: Obsessing about how much and/or how often your baby is eating can do more harm than good. If your goal is to keep your baby on a schedule, it is important to pay attention to how long it takes for your baby to become satisfied. Use this information to help you schedule feedings in the future. It is generally accepted that babies should not be put on a schedule before 1 to 2 months of age. This newborn stage is a time to establish trust, the foundation of your relationship with your baby. Please remember that moderation is the key. While it isn't innately harmful to keep track of times and lengths of feedings, if it becomes a source of excessive stress, it might be a good idea to rethink your methods.

Newborn Hunger Cues


Would you?

Would you feed your baby donated breast milk if you were unable to breastfeed?

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Fun and Informative Breastfeeding Video


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